The East Village is one of the eclectic neighborhoods in New York. Need proof? Look at the best East Village restaurants, a melting pop of top-rate Korean restaurants, nouveau soul food restaurants and modern Mexican restaurants, not to mention the bulk of the Momofuku empire. From omakase sushi to comfort foods, here are the best restaurants to dine at in the East Village.
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Best East Village restaurants
After six years in a shoebox storefront on First Avenue, David Chang started thinking bigger for his 12-seat chef's counter, the most expensive restaurant of the Momofuku empire. In October 2014, he closed the original Ko to shuffle it to a triple-the-size space just off the Bowery, kitted out with a massive dark-wood 22-seat counter at its center and tables for larger parties. Here, diners can fishbowl-view the chef-servers as they prepare the multicourse meal from start to finish. The ever-evolving menu has included creative numbers like a matcha-tea–dusted mille-feuille that layers house-made rye puff pastry with béchamel and trout roe, and a mackerel sabazushi that’s pickled, pressed, seared and sliced before being served across a wasabi leaf with a drizzle of dashi ponzu.
Tiny, well-lit Prune is still as popular as it was the day it opened. Gabrielle Hamilton’s French mother developed this fearless chef’s palate early on: Expect creative dishes like Manila clams with hominy and smoked paprika butter, and roasted suckling pig with pickled tomatoes, black-eyed-pea salad and chipotle mayo. This is the area’s go-to brunch spot, so beware: The wait for a table can stretch over an hour.
The East Village needed a Hearth—an upscale yet relaxed place that wasn’t just another surprisingly good ethnic hole-in-the-wall. Skirting the small-plate trend, the hearty fare is big, rich and flavorful. Roasted and braised domestic lamb with lamb sausage, buttercup squash and chanterelle mushrooms is an excellent version of lamb three ways, and roasted sturgeon with prosciutto, sweet potatoes and sage is a novel treatment of this luxurious fish. There is a small hearth in the restaurant, but the real warmth comes from the staff, which takes pains in helping you pick the right dish, and is equally interested in finding out afterward what you thought of it.
The East Village’s first real destination sushi bar remains one of the top spots in the neighborhood for pristine raw fish—and, with tables lined up under a blonde wood cocoon, among the coziest. Over the years portions have grown, but the food remains as gorgeous as ever. A trio of tartares comes topped with three different caviars, a flaky wild salmon filet steamed in paper in sea-urchin sauce is unveiled at the table. The budget-minded will gravitate toward the oversized maki filled with intriguing combinations like seared red snapper, cucumber and shiso. The best deal on a sushi splurge is still the chef’s choice omakase, an ultra-generous platter of whatever’s freshest that day.
The ultimate Netflix-binge, couch-potato snack has arrived, New York—it’s the honey-buttered chips at Oiji, an instantly craveable take on the cultish South Korean junk food. It’s not the only successful Korean retooling that Brian Kim and Tae Kyung Ku (Bouley and Gramercy Tavern, respectively) have put forth at their neoteric East Village nook Bibimbap is deconstructed into a DIY “seven flavors," whisper-thin rice-flour crepes joined by a range of toppings that include julienned carrots, shiitake mushrooms and egg whites. Craggy Korean fried chicken is reborn as arguably the most ethereal chicken cutlet ever, trading grease traps of batter for a delicately crisp tapioca coating.
At Momofuku boss David Chang's relocated flagship, the signature elements are in place (light-wood decor, a dozen-deep crowd, the Asian-tinged chow), but Chang steps up his game in the larger space with the addition of table service and some new dishes. The house pork-belly ramen, and a spicy miso variety, exist alongside Chang’s hall-of-fame buns (chicken, shrimp) and rice cakes with chicken, egg and bonito. Finish off a meal with a selection of Milk Bar confections like soft serve and cookies.
The taco-free Empellón Cocina is a return for Alex Stupak to more familiar territory: not a sugary retreat but a step back toward his haute-cuisine roots. This follow-up to Taqueria may look more casual than the first—as dark as an East Village saloon, with walls covered in Day of the Dead paintings and a trippy blue rooster out of some peyote-popping fever dream—but much of the food is more creative and high-end than the setting suggests. Everything here is designed for sharing, and a table cluttered with his most impressionistic fare feels Mexican only in the most cosmopolitan sense.
This sleek outpost of a Japanese ramen chain is packed mostly with Nippon natives who queue up for a taste of “Ramen King” Shigemi Kawahara’s tonkotsu—a pork-based broth. The house special, Akamaru Modern, is a smooth, buttery soup topped with scallions, cabbage, a slice of roasted pork and pleasantly elastic noodles. Avoid nonsoup dishes like the oily fried-chicken nuggets coated in a sweet batter. Long live the Ramen King—just don’t ask him to move beyond his specialty.
Il Buco’s casual offshoot—one part winecentric restaurant (Vineria), one part gourmet food pantry (Alimentari)—pulls off the combo more elegantly. The two halves of the former warehouse space share a single uncluttered aesthetic. The retail portion is artfully curated like a miniature Dean & DeLuca, with dangling hams and bespoke hunks of cheese, high-end sauces and condiments arrayed on antique shelves like interior-design baubles. Though the fancy provisions are separated from the dining room by a wall of Modena vinegar barrels, the open kitchen’s wood-burning aromas still consume every inch of the place.
The state of Indian food in New York is a divided one: Cultish, rickety dosa carts and home-cooked Punjabi counters occupy one end; modern Michelin-level fine-dining rooms gloss up the other. Babu Ji, a South Melbourne import from husband-and-wife team Jessi and Jennifer Singh (from Chandigarh and New York City, respectively), falls comfortably in the middle. There’s a tasting menu, but it’s only $50 per person; a thoughtful wine list but also a fend-for-yourself beer fridge. And plates are similarly middlebrow—slow-cooked lamb folded into a Kashimiri-style Rogan gosht, raw Long Island scallops dropped into turmeric-yellow coconut curry—heartily accessible but more pristinely garnished than your hole-in-the-wall curry house.